Thursday, August 31, 2006

Drop out of college - The Electoral one

Six months ago I read this short column in New Yorker magazine and thought, "This is a great idea but it won't happen." Turns out it might. I'm talking about changing the way the 18th century construct called the Electoral College works, or as we saw in 2000, doesn't work. How is it that you can win the popular vote of the country, like Al Gore, but lose the Presidency? Because the Electoral College says so. The idea to change the way this completely flawed and farce of democracy works (or doesn't work) is so rational and fair that that's the reason why it hasn't happened yet. But now it might.

Hendrik Hertzberg explains it better than I can, "The idea behind their initiative is this: that the President of the United States should be elected by the people of the United States. This idea is neither new nor outlandish, but for most of the past couple of centuries it has been dismissed as unachievable. The Electoral College is enshrined in the Constitution itself, so getting rid of it would require the concurrence of two-thirds of both houses of Congress plus three-quarters of the state legislatures. That’s not going to happen.

But maybe it doesn’t have to. The promoters of the Campaign for a National Popular Vote, as they’re calling themselves, have come up with an elegant finesse. Instead of trying to change the Constitution, they propose to apply it, one bit in particular: Article II, Section 1, which instructs each state to “appoint” its Presidential electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Here’s how the plan would work. One by one, legislature by legislature, state law by state law, individual states would pledge themselves to an interstate compact under which they would agree to award their electoral votes to the nationwide winner of the popular vote. The compact would take effect only when enough states had joined it to elect a President—that is, enough to cast a majority of the five hundred and thirty-eight electoral votes. (Theoretically, as few as eleven states could do the trick.) And then, presto! All of a sudden, the people of all fifty states plus the District of Columbia are empowered to elect their President the same way they elect their governors, mayors, senators, and congressmen."

Another benefit of this new arrangement is that candidates would have to fight for every vote in every state and not simply go to the handful of so-called "battleground states". Whether a state is red or blue won't matter anymore since every vote actually counts towards getting elected president not just the ones to get you to 50.1% in a state allowing you to collect that state's entire Electoral votes. Today if you are in a safe "blue" state or a safe "red" state - so-called "spectator states" - you can ring doorbells, hand out leaflets, pursuade a neighbor or two and put up yard signs but the outcome is already determined so what's the point? Any chance Texas votes for Hillary, Kerry or Gore any time soon? What about blue New York and California? Think their voting a Republican for president in 2008? Over time people participate less and less in elections since their efforts and votes don't matter at all. That's bad for keeping democracy healthy. Hertzberg calls it, "the death of participatory politics in two-thirds of the country...Widening your ticket’s margin of victory or narrowing its margin of defeat is equally pointless. In this sense, our Presidential campaigns are not only not national; in most of the country they’re not local, either. They’re just not."

What a concept - direct elections for President. The same way we do it for hey elect governors, mayors, senators, and congressmen. It's such a good idea that has no downside, except for those who like over 200 years of distorted democracy, that that's why it might not happen but why it should. Here's hoping we drop out of college - the Electoral one.


Anonymous westfield said...

Sounds like a weasel approach.

7:26 AM  
Blogger phinky said...

All the Bushites oppose this idea. If Kerry had won with a minority of the popular vote and the majority of the electoral college, we'd never hear the end of how the electoral college needs to be scrapped.

11:15 AM  

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